Works in Progress - Summer 2011

Where the Wild Things Are

By Vanessa Schipani | June 24, 2013

 

In an attempt to give the public a peek into the secret lives of wild animals, Smithsonian Institution researchers have collected all of their motion-triggered camera shots from the field in one place, the Smithsonian Wild website. Before consolidation, these candid photos of vampire bats, jaguars, and everything in between were lodged on various computers, neglected and at risk of being lost, says Smithsonian wildlife ecologist William McShea.

All over the world, researchers have set up “camera traps,” often along forest trails or in trees, that take a photo when the camera’s sensor recognizes movement or body heat. Researchers often employ camera traps instead of walking forest trails and carefully watching and recording every sign of an animal’s presence. But these line-transect surveys often fail to catch shy, small, or rare species, like the snow leopard, which the cameras have successfully captured.

Though the idea came from a desire to captivate the public with photos of wild animals and their diverse habitats, McShea says, the project will also benefit scientific exploration. “Researchers can check the website to see what work has been done on any particular species in any area of the world,” he says. “These pictures are just like collecting a specimen.”

The Smithsonian plans to enlarge the current cache of 200,000 images with contributions from individuals and researchers associated with institutions and schools.

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